Fresh off a dominant performance at the Princeton Open, the Ohio State University wrestling team opened its home season in St. John Arena versus a ranked Pac-12 opponent. No. 12 Arizona State dropped a narrow loss to the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines Friday, and came to Columbus hoping for a better showing against the Buckeyes.
Sadly for the visitors, that wasn't in the cards.
Senior captain Kyle Snyder calls his team potentially "the greatest wrestling team in history," and it isn't hard to see why he's confident in his comrades. The Buckeyes won seven of 10 matches on the day, losing only two decisions and a pin compared with two pins, two major decisions, two decisions and a forfeit to their credit, with a final score of 31-12 for the home team.
125 pounds: Brakan Mead vs. No. 7 Ryan Millhof
Ohio State's true freshman stepped into the lineup when three-time All-American Nathan Tomasello sustained a knee injury at the U23 World Team Trials in October. He went 4-2 at the Princeton Open, finishing fourth.
Millhof, a transfer from the University of Oklahoma, came off a redshirt season and displayed why he's highly-ranked going into his junior campaign, earning his first takedown midway through the first period and piling up 90 seconds of riding time with a dominant top game Mead struggled to counter.
Mead opened the second period on top, working feverishly to get the elder competitor on his back, but in the process yielded a reversal, allowing Millhof to go back to work on top. The pair traded stalling warnings midway through the second. Millhof worked aggressively, on top, and Mead struggled to get to his feet, closing the second having given up more than 3 minutes of riding time.
The third period didn't last long at all, as Millhof's top game paid off with a quick reversal into a pinfall, giving ASU an early 0-6 lead.
133 pounds: No. 10 Luke Pletcher vs. Ali Naser
Sophomore Luke Pletcher finally gets to wrestle in his natural weight class, and sawed his way through the field at the Princeton Open, winning the championship despite a couple of narrow victories. The first period vs. unranked senior Ali Naser was a flurry of activity, with Pletcher earning an aggressive takedown midway through the period, only to see the older competitor work into a reversal. Pletcher's escape had the action 3-2 at the end of the first.
Pletcher started the second on the bottom, but quickly escaped to extend his lead. Nasser worked hard to get a takedown off a single-leg midway through the second, but again allowed a quick escape. The two spent much of the period tied up, working the head, each trying to wear down the other.
Nasser opted to start the 3rd period on the bottom, and his quick escape evened the score 5-5. Pletcher took a quick shot 30 seconds in to the match, but a game Nasser stayed on his foot long enough to get Pletcher on the ground, ending the sequence in a stalemate.
With less than 60 seconds to go, the competitors faced off again, going back to work at the head. Pletcher took another shot but wasn't able to secure the leg. Time expired with the score 5-5, leading to a sudden victory period.
SV-1 opened much the same as the previous periods, with each competitor working the other's head, and Pletcher angling for a shot. He took the shot he needed, and while Nasser worked back into what looked like a takedown of his own, Pletcher wouldn't concede the point and spun into the go-ahead takedown, winning an exciting decision 7-5, narrowing the Sun Devil lead, 3-6.
141 pounds: No. 6 Joey McKenna vs. Cory Crooks
Buckeye fans got their first taste of action from offseason Stanford transfer Joey McKenna. The Pac-12 champion came to Columbus in part because of Ohio State's stable of international freestyle competitors, and quickly earned his own spot on the U23 World Team, and will compete for world gold later this month in Poland.
McKenna quickly showed why he's ranked in the Top-10, taking a methodical approach to his match with freshman Crooks, and earning his first takedown two minutes into the match. Perhaps because of his freestyle focus, McKenna didn't show much interest in working the top game, racking up only 23 seconds of riding time before yielding the escape. He went back to work, and scored a second takedown of the period as time expired.
Going into the second up 4-1, McKenna worked from the top position and extended his riding time advantage, while working to get his opponent on his back. He worked Crooks' right arm throughout the first half of the period, and despite his opponent's best efforts, was clearly the stronger wrestler. At the end of the second, McKenna had nearly 2:30 of riding time, and the 4-1 lead with the riding time bonus locked in place.
Crooks started the third on top, and though McKenna was able to get to his feet, he didn't earn the escape until thirty seconds into the period. He went back to work from his feet, taking a shot at the one-minute mark that he couldn't finish. With 20 seconds remaining, Crooks took his own shot, but it was for naught as time expired with no takedown.
The 5-1 decision evened the team score, 6-6.
149 pounds: No. 11 Ke-Shawn Hayes vs. No. 13 Josh Maruca
Returning from an injury-shortened season last year, Hayes plowed through the field at the Princeton Open. His first real test of the season came against a ranked redshirt sophomore.
Hayes is a fun wrestler to watch on his feet. He's always working an angle, and takes smart shots. He got his first takedown of a strong shot two minutes into the match. He worked a strong game on top in the last minute of the period, earning 45 seconds of riding time before yielding the escape, taking the 2-1 lead into the break.
Opening the second period on top, Hayes continued to work his opponent, and although Maruca got to his feet, Hayes worked him to 1:20 of riding time before the two went out of bounds. Going back to the center, a flurry of activity led to a 2-point near fall for Hayes that was quickly challenged by the Arizona State coaching staff.
A lengthy review went in Arizona State's favor, erasing the points and sending Hayes back to work on top with a minute left in the second period. Maruca got the escape to even the score, but had already yielded 1:50 of riding time.
Maruca took a shot on a single-leg with less than :40 left in the period, but was unable to finish. Hayes got a strong throw of his own in to earn a second takedown, taking the 4-2 lead into the third.
Hayes started the third on the bottom, but Maruca gave him the immediate escape, opting to go back to work from his feet. Hayes went back to work on another shot, but Maruca scrambled into a stalemate. Back on his feet, Hayes took another shot, Maruca scrambled into a single-leg of his own, and Hayes escaped out of bounds to ward off the takedown.
With 20 seconds remaining, Maruca did his best to get some points on the board, but Hayes was too strong, keeping his feet long enough to escape with the 5-1 decision, and giving the Buckeyes a 9-6 lead after four bouts.
157 pounds: No. 5 Micah Jordan vs. No. 12 Josh Shields
Wrestling completely health for the first time in two seasons, Micah Jordan put on a clinic at Princeton. He went right back to work vs. ASU's ranked redshirt sophomore, earning a takedown just seconds into the match, and working toward near-fall points before yielding an escape.
Shields wasn't ready to give up however, working toward his own points. Jordan added a takedown on an exchange midway through the period, and yielded a second escape to make the score 4-2. Jordan took a number of shots throughout the period, but Shields took one of his own to earn a takedown and get the younger Jordan brother on the mat.
Jordan opened the second period on top, with both wrestlers tied at 4 points. Jordan opted to go back to work from his feet, giving up the escape point. Shields was able to get Jordan on the mat a time or two, but couldn't secure the takedown. The period ended with Shields up 5-4.
Trailing at the start of the third, Jordan opted to start from his feet, and the action continued as it had throughout the first six minutes. Jordan took his shot early, but shields was able to tie him up and go to work on the head. The two grappled on the mat to a stalemate.
At the 60-second mark, Shields got Jordan on a single leg, giving him the 7-4 lead over the more highly-decorated opponent. Fans had flashbacks from last season, as Jordan again looked like he was in trouble on bottom, and time expired with Shields earning the upset, putting the team score back to a 9-9 tie at intermission.
165 pounds: No. 7 Te'Shan Campbell vs. No. 6 Anthony Valencia
Most fans probably had the 174-pound match circled on their program, but this match was perhaps the most interesting matchup of the day. Campbell, the reigning ACC champion, transferred to Columbus from Pitt during the offseason, and Valencia is one of the most talented young grapplers in the country.
Campbell went to work right off the bat, with an emphatic takedown and a four-point near fall in the first 90 seconds of action. After racking up more than a minute of riding time, he added another two-point near fall to close the first period 8-0.
Choosing to work from the top to open the second, Campbell continued to show that he is one of the strongest wrestlers in the Steelwood training facility, more or less having his way with Valencia. He continued to work toward additional backpoints throughout the period, adding another 4-point near fall at the midway point, and locking in the riding time bonus point to boot.
For Buckeye fans who didn't know much about Campbell ahead of the season, this match should leave them with no doubt that he's a star in the making. A pair of stalling warnings against Valencia gave Campbell the 13-0 lead at the end of two periods.
Campbell survived a near-all attempt from Valencia, who opened the final period on top. Despite Valencia's best efforts, Campbell was simply too strong, and kept scrambling out of potentially vulnerable positions.
To his credit, Valencia looked very strong on top throughout the third, erasing more than a minute of Campbell's riding time advantage, but it was too little too late, and the new addition to the lineup brought home the 14-0 major decision, and giving the Buckeyes the 13-9 lead going into the match of the day.
174 pounds: No. 3 Bo Jordan vs. No. 1 Zahid Valencia
The elder Jordan brother has been in the spotlight more or less his entire career, and opening his senior campaign against the top wrestler in the country was par for the course. Valencia took his shot at the opening whistle, and though it took him nearly a minute to finish it, he eventually earned the takedown.
Jordan escaped fairly quickly, with both men looking as though they preferred to work from their feet. Fans likely expected fireworks in this match, and the two highly-regarded technicians didn't disappoint, taking shots and adjusting throughout the opening frame.
Valencia showcased his strength, picking Jordan up and tossing him practically into the stands. Credited with the takedown, the competitors finished out of bounds as Buckeye head coach Tom Ryan threw his challenge. The call was reversed, taking the score back to 2-1 with 40 seconds remaining in the period.
Despite losing the challenge, Valencia earned the points back in short order, securing a single-leg and adding to his riding time as the buzzer sounded.
The second period opened with a little bit of intrigue, as Valencia was assessed a penalty point for unsportsmanlike conduct, and the Sun Devils' head coach received a warning for his rather vocal reaction. Jordan had what looked like a sure takedown midway through the period, but was unable to finish before the competitors went out of bounds.
Valencia, however, extended his lead with another takedown in short order, and after Jordan's escape, added another for good measure, ending the second period 8-4.
The final period started with both men on their feet again and Jordan in a deep hole against one of the best wrestlers in the country. He continued to fire shots, but struggled to finish against the veteran scrambler. Valencia earned the decision 9-4 with riding time, narrowing the Sun Devils' deficit to a single point, 13-12.
184 pounds: No. 2 Myles Martin vs. Kordell Norfleet
After seeing BoJo fall to the top-ranked wrestler in the country, the Buckeye faithful needed something to get their spirits up, and former NCAA champ Myles Martin was just what the doctor ordered. Working against a true freshman, Martin secured his first takedown quickly.
Martin is one of the most electric wrestlers on the team, and he bashed his way through the field at the Princeton Open in characteristic style. He yielded Norfleet the escape midway through the first, earned his second takedown with 30 seconds remaining, and allowed Norfleet to go back to his feet for a 4-2 score at the first break.
Choosing to work from the bottom at the start of the second, Martin earned his own escape point 10 seconds into the period. Norfleet was a game opponent, showing no fear of one of the top wrestlers in the country, but he was simply outmatched. With 30 seconds left in the period, Martin secured the pin, bringing the home faithful to their feet, and extending the Buckeyes' lead to 19-12.
197 pounds: No. 1 Kollin Moore, win by forfeit
Much to the chagrin of the fans in attendance, Arizona State opted to scratch their 197-pound competitor, giving the Buckeyes a 25-12 lead heading into the final match of the day.
285 pounds: No. 1 Kyle Snyder vs. Austyn Harris
Kyle Snyder is the best pound-for-pound wrestler on the planet, and redshirt junior Austyn Harris was the latest competitor to learn why, firsthand. Snyder is a takedown machine, and he earned five of them in the first period alone.
"An escape for Harris and and another takedown for Snyder," was a phrase the PA announcer said no fewer than five times on the day. Snyder is likely the strongest wrestler in the NCAA this season, but what sets him apart is the quickness with which he applies that strength.
Fans were treated to a masterclass in Synder-style wrestling, with a dozen takedowns serving as a mere appetizer to a pin early in the third. The reigning Olympic and World Champion flexed for the home crowd, sporting the newly-minted "Pin Chain," designed by assistant coach J Jaggers, a fellow two-time NCAA champion.
"I wouldn't have gone for the pin if it wasn't for the Pin Chain," Snyder said of the Miami-football-inspired accessory. "Penn State is really good, and we are really good, so it's going to come down to bonus points." When a Buckeye wins via fall this season, they'll earn the right to sport the Pin Chain.
The Buckeyes will host Cleveland State and Kent State for the "Thanksgiving Throwdown" tri-dual, Nov. 21 in St. John Arena.